Monday, December 10, 2012

12/10/12 Communication troubles

I've been quiet in my blog lately. Partly, I write a lot outside the blog now -- email, or just to myself. Writing has always helped me cope, and never moreso now.

Blog or not, behind the scenes, I'm struggling terribly with this new "co-parent" world. The kids' lives -- and mine -- have been torn in half, split between two places, two worlds. So far the kids seem OK, but I'm having a terrible time communicating with their dad.

"Communication is so important," everyone keeps telling me. "It's essential to establish a positive flow of communication." Yes. But the medium is only a small part of that -- content matters more. It seems extreme, but our communication is so poor that I had to limit the media in order to constrain the content. Meaning: no more email, it was too destructive. All our kid-logistics are communicated by texting on iPhones. But again, medium isn't the real problem. A situation arose recently that demonstrates this.

I'd agreed weeks ago to let dad take the kids to a once-annual "Psychotronix" movie festival next weekend, a special occasion they did together last year too. His movie-festival evening with them will be on "my" weekend, but so far these little trades haven't been a problem.

But then, he asked to extend that time to the entire Saturday afternoon, as early as noon if I didn't give them lunch. I wasn't comfortable with that -- school-free afternoons are a rare treat these days! I was already giving up my Saturday evening with my kids; I still wanted my afternoon.

But I've become very nervous about saying No. The odds of a harsh ungracious response are just too high. So I consulted with a couple people on composing a straightforward response, and waited until I had some support before answering. I knew there was a good chance he'd strike back, and I wasn't disappointed.

This is the exchange that ensued (via text):

Sat Dec 15th: Sorry, we have plans that afternoon. Please pick up @6:30pm as planned, and return them to Parnell, thanks.

What plans? - Julian

Conflicting plans mystery to Gabriel as well. I told them we'd try to arrange another time that they could go to the Computer History Museum. At least they can still go to the Psychotronix [ movie festival ].

In general, we should confirm first with each other before telling kids about possible event during other parents' time. It is not fair to kids or parent who has to say 'no.'

Open channels of communication will make it much easier to juggle challenges such as gauging interest with coordinating schedules.

(other related discussion occurred too, but that's the main thread.)

I was stunned. I've come to expect this, but it never fails to lacerate me anyway.

It might look benign to the uninitiated reader, but not only did dad tell the kids about his plan for the afternoon with them before confirming with me, but then he let Julian ask me what my plans were -- opening the door for a challenge. And since when is my designated time with them "coordinating schedules?" And "at least" they can still have the time I'd agreed to give up? Thanks a lot!

It makes sense to check with the kids first before asking the other parent to forfeit time -- gauging interest -- but without psyching the kid up or committing to it. And if the rightful parent does say "no," then the asking parent needs to be gracious: "Lucky you, mom doesn't want to give you up!"

But letting the kid ask me "what plans" is worse than ungracious, it's involving the kids in our conflict. It could create a situation in which the child might say "No, I'd rather do Dad's thing" -- even letting the kid choose which parent to be with, based on who the kid thinks will offer the most fun. Do I need to compete for my time with them now?

The truth is, I had no specific plans. I don't have tickets to an event. I didn't think I needed to. I thought we might get a Christmas tree, maybe make cookies or build a gingerbread house. Maybe we'd play some foosball. Katrina has a birthday party. I'd promised Julian a zoo visit sometime, but now I probably won't do that since they're going out that night.

My "plans" were to be with my children. I never thought I'd have to justify that.

So what about co-parent communication? Dave characterized my time with my children as "conflicting," a "mystery," something to "coordinate." Ouch, zap, stab. *I* thought it was my designated, rightful, precious, unfettered time with them. I never thought it was something that should garner even the slightest hint of complaint or questioning.

I want so so much not to be subjected to these contentious, unnecessary, painful interactions anymore. They've been such a hindrance, such a problem in the "communication" that everyone keeps reminding me is so important. But what can I do? I certainly can't go back to pages of it in email again.

I know someday the stabs will just roll off my back, that I'll develop a thicker skin...that someday I'll just roll my eyes and ignore them as they should be. But I'm too weak now. The wounds are too fresh and so very very deep...and get opened anew when my kids get pulled in.

To me, this is the main communication problem. Not text v. email. Basic consideration and common courtesy would say that the right answer to "Sorry, no," is simply, "ok, I'll pick them up at 6:30pm."

Even the simplest interaction can become so painful and difficult. I'm desperately seeking outside consultation.



Chuck said...

Noemi, both of you are literal-minded people who respond most reliably to direct messages. You're both successful nerds. Comes with the territory.

Both of you also have feelings that aren't well served by that kind of communication. In this case they're pretty much the same feelings. You want to be able to enjoy a spontaneous day with the kids without having to make a big deal about time with them that's already been agreed to, Dave wants to be able to discuss plans spontaneously with the kids without worrying about outside constraints.

By saying "I have plans" you apparently gave the impression that you had something specific in mind, opening up a negotiation about what the kids might like best that overrode what you should have been able to decide with them on your own. Even thought it might be harder to say "I'm lonely; I need them with me", that might have a better effect. If nothing else that's a reminder that he owes you, and that he'll have to accept schedule changes when you want them later.

mommieN. said...
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mommieN. said...
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mommieN. said...

Hi Chuck -- not sure who you are -- do you truly believe that my words "I have plans" opened up a negotiation? Most people understand this as a figure of speech, as the close of a discussion. But ok, shame on me for using those exact literal words. Seems this is my fault, again.

If you truly believe that saying "I want them with me" would have spared me the usual attacks, challenge, ridicule, and most importantly, involving the kids, then I'm ALL for it. I will accept the blame for not getting the words exactly right to "ask" for my afternoon with my children. WhatEVER it takes to spare them. Please help.